I did not know her, but the death of Meg Menzies haunts me. It reminds me how fragile, beautiful and fleeting life can be. My friend Bradley knew her and his grief makes my sadness double. Another friend knows the son of the Dr. Michael Carlson, the drunk driver who killed her, and her witness to this tragedy deepens my sorrow.
On Monday morning at 8:15 AM a young mother of three went for a morning jog. She was an experienced runner, on the correct side of the road – doing everything right. A drunk driver – a medical doctor on his way to work – lost control of his car and hit her. She later died at a local hospital.
The facts are clear. The grief is unfathomable.
Enter the media. Enter the social media. Enter the dialogue.
He needs to go to prison forever.
Other people have been killed on that road. It’s Richmond’s fault.
He was driving under the influence with alcohol and pills in the car!
He says he had been drinking the night before.
He blew a .11 at 9:00 AM. What was he the night before???
He takes chemotherapy. That means the effects of alcohol last.
No, that means he probably shouldn’t be drinking and definitely shouldn’t be drinking and driving!
He is a good man. He didn’t mean to hurt anybody.
He was going to work as a doctor while intoxicated. He was definitely going to hurt someone.
He has had a lot of loss in his life.
Now we all have loss.
Then it trails off into a weird fight about Obamacare and birth control…
Quickly the posts are hijacked by people saying we need remember both sides and feel bad for everyone involved. By Sunday the preachers are writing messages and giving sermons about grace – forgiveness for everyone.
“Grace, Grace, Grace,” the preachers say. “We must pray for him.”
“Amen, Amen,” the sheeple bray. “There but for the grace of God go I.”
(Does it every strike anyone else that it’s not comforting to hear if it wasn’t for some kind of divine intervention we’d all be drunk drivers? Can no one make a better decision?)
Here’s the thing: I don’t want to pray for Dr. Michael Carlson. I want to punch him in the gut, slap him in the face, spit on his medical license and THEN I will freaking pray for him. Because I am human. And that’s okay too.
Fast grace isn’t really grace. It’s like fast food – a cheap, gross knock-off that isn’t really food for the soul and doesn’t make anything better in the long run. We need to process before jumping on the grace train.
At some point the church needs to let us feel what we feel and express what we express. Don’t damper our anger with what we should feel. Surround us with safety so we can feel what we do feel. Stop cramming grace down our throats and start giving us permission to learn to reconcile feelings, faith, and fate. Give us wisdom, examples, and time. We will get to grace.
It’s normal for preachers to talk about grace. But – when are we gonna talk about justice?
There is nothing that will bring Meg Menzies back to her family. But there should be justice for the person who took her away. Folks were furious when he got bail less than 24 hours after her death. They want the trial today and the life in prison without parole to be sentenced tomorrow. There is a lot of frustration with a system known to be unbalanced by things like race, money, and status. Those folks need to slow down too.
Fast justice isn’t really just. Our flawed system is all we have – and it may actually work better when the raging crowd isn’t turning the crank.
It’s a challenge to all of us when Grace and Justice seem to come at each other in perpendicular tension. At the corner of Grace and Justice stands the truth.
The truth is: Meg Menzies is gone too soon. Dr. Michael Carlson killed her.
And all the rest will take time.
Time to be angry.
Time to be sad.
Time to honor her.
Time to hold him accountable.
Time to learn from her life.
Time to learn from his life.
Time to let God forgive until we can forgive.
Time to forgive.
Time to love…
Time to love…
Time to love…
In the end, as much as we all grieve the unfair loss of this young woman, we will always be thankful for the time she spent among us and the way her love – for God, for her children, for running, and for the world made us want to love too.
In the end, whether Dr. Carlson gets a slap on the hands and six weeks in rehab, or prison time to reflect on the nature of selfish bad decisions – I commend him to the legal system in which I have no power. But I will continue to hope that the arc of history really does bend toward justice – whatever that means in this case.
My partner Cathy is running for Meg like thousands of others on Saturday. I can’t run – but I am running in spirit. I hope you will move – in some way – too.
You’re on it. I’m on it. We are all on it. And we all scream for ice cream. The journey of life – that walk/run/crawl through the days that make up our time on earth – is a trip each and every one of us will take. Few journeys go in a straight line and most of us encounter the valleys and challenges that make stories like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter touch us at a soul level.
Whether we are encountering a hero’s journey to make our dreams come true or just struggling to keep enough food in the fridge until payday, we are all trying to get somewhere. This archetype is so deeply ingrained in our communal and personal psyche we apply it to our spiritual nature and that’s when many make a mistake. We begin to believe we are on a path to God.
We are all mindful of those rigid, annoying folks who believe their “path to God” is the ONLY path to God. Just as frustrating to me are those folks who, in trying to be open minded, willfully insist “there are many paths to God.” While it is nice for people to affirm the faith ideas of others as valid and uplifting, it still offers a misdirected solution.
It doesn’t matter if your view of God is Jehovah – the Judeo-Christian God, the Buddha nature, the AA “Higher Power” or as Julia Cameron aptly describes it – the search for “Good-Orderly-Direction” the belief that your practice of faith, grace or ritual is taking you toward God could be holding you back from some of the very joy you seek.
I would like you to try, just for a moment, to think differently. If you are not completely satisfied – your path to God will be returned to you immediately. I won’t even make you wait the 30 day trial period. But for a second, try this out.
There is no path to God.
If you are willing to imagine that thought – I’ll throw in the rest for free.
There is no path to God because God is already with you.
When we project that there is a path leading to God, we place God somewhere we are not. We begin to think of God as “away” and we must do something – live according to the rules, pray every day, meditate to enlightenment, spin in a circle three times before sleeping – in order to be with God.
What we miss in all that working our way to God is the everyday, joyous awareness that God is living with us, praying with us, the breath of our meditation, the beat of our heart and beauty of each waking (and sleeping) moment. That’s something worth knowing. As a happy by-product, when you take yourself off the path to God and walk your life’s pathway with God it will free you from needing to judge other people’s journeys as well. You can just “be” and let them “be” too.
The things we do in faith – going to church, following a practice , praying, giving, forgiving, meditating, healing, loving – they all help us and our fellow travelers to experience and express the God who is with us. They are important and valuable. They are the essence of “Namaste” – the God in me honoring the God in you.
Make no mistake, life is still a journey and we are all on it. I don’t know about you – but instead of seeing my life as an errand to pick God up along the way – I feel a lot better knowing God is in the boat with me.
I can’t tell you what happened – maybe pigs have started to fly, maybe Tim Tebow met a TV camera he didn’t like or maybe Congress did something right – all I know is after years of threatening – it feels like hell has finally frozen over.
I’m one of those people who would rather be overly hot than terribly cold. 102 with humidity is stifling, oppressive and sweaty. 24 degrees – hurts. I can’t say I get comfortable in the hot summer sun, but I get used to it. I never get used to being cold. From the minute I go outside to the moment I sink into my recliner in my well heated home, I am miserable. When I’m cold, I never stop being miserable and I never quit complaining. No matter how much gratitude I have to be in a house, with a heater, drinking hot cider – I’m complaining. No matter how much zazen I sit, allowing my mind to find a positive or neutral spot to rest – I’m complaining (“Geeez! Even my cushion is cold!”). No matter how many people assure me that my vital organs are not growing icicles – I’m complaining.
Complaining makes me warmer or at least less helpless in my frozen state. Now, I know the therapists and pastoral counselors all tell us that when someone complains they aren’t really expecting you to fix their problem. They just want someone to listen. People, that’s crap. I WANT YOU TO MAKE IT WARMER! But, if you can’t – then be patient and drink my whine like bitter merlot harvested from grapes that were frostbit on the vine.
The only thing I like about the cold is the way online weather reports it.
Temperature 24 degrees: Feels like: 6
Wind 5 – 10 Mph: Gust of 34.
The online weather has a way of cutting through the vague comfort of numbers and tells us exactly how it feels. I have often thought it would be wonderful if people came with meters like the weather.
- Looks: Professionally dressed and accomplished. Feels like: Crap.
- Attitude: Friendly with a bit of an edge: Gusts of tirade.
Wouldn’t it help if you saw that on my office door? It would certainly help me if people took my inner world into consideration before blasting me with their issues, ideas or jokes. If I had one of those signs, no one would come strolling into my space and ask one of the three worst questions known to human kind:
- Can I ask you a question?
- Are you busy?
- Am I bothering you?
For the record:
- You just did, now go away.
- If I wasn’t busy I’d be in a hammock in the Bahamas
- If you have to ask….
The truth is – we all have an inner world, even those of us who don’t let it bubble to the surface every time the temperature gets below freezing. Wise are we when we remember that. Gracious are we when we accept that that truth without ever needing it confirmed.
In Zen we are taught to just be, and just let others be as well. We don’t have pry someone’s secrets out of them or ask others what is going on in someone’s world. We simply allow the fact that inner movement (sometimes turmoil, sometimes joy, sometimes peace and sometimes a set of feelings too complex for a name) is occurring in every being we meet, and we honor that.
Some people are easy. Some people are hard. All people are valuable. It is never too late, or too often to remember that.
And, honey, turn the heat up. I’m freezing in here.